I wrote this reflection a couple of years ago and did not have the courage to anything with it. some recent reading in Theology Today opened my eyes to the reality of torture used as a method by our government and I have decided to post this piece on the cost of war. The reports that I quote will be detailed tomorrow.
How much does the war and occupation of Iraq Cost? According to some reports it costs 4 billion more dollars for our government to send adequately armored vehicles to our troops. I did some quick research on the internet. According to a report I found written by the Congressional Budget Office (a analysis of which you too can find at usgovinfo.about.org) the occupation of Iraq is estimated to cost anywhere from 1 to 4 billion dollars monthly.
My concern about cost goes much deeper than the economics of the matter and goes straight to the spiritual cost. As shocked and saddened as we all were by the stories and photographs of prisoner abused at Abu Graif, recent government documents released by the ACLU strongly suggest a much wider swath of cruelty and violence on the part of the American guards and interrogators. Recently I read that the military acknowledges over 100 prisoner deaths due to torture at the hands of Americans. We can now see quite concretely that the danger of this war, for soldier and citizen alike. The cost is not in dollars and cents, the danger is not just the physical injury that bullet, bomb and shrapnel cause. We now see the spiritual cost and moral danger is the inhumanity and cruelty with which prisoners and detainees are treated.
The fundamental weakness of any act of violence, even for the sake of democracy which is the reported purpose of this current military action, is that the end, freedom, is sought by means opposite the goal. What we see on the internet and hear graphically reported in the television and radio is that not only is this war destructive to the geography and society of the people of Iraq, but it tears away at the spiritual and ethical fiber of American Troops and innocent Iraqi civilians. Another report suggests that the United States Military admits that roughly 70-90% of prisoners held are innocent of any involvement in terrorism. We have been told that military service would allow our children and grandchildren, our brothers, sisters and friends to realize their greatest potential. But these reports of abuse and cruelty which spread from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay show evidence that war risks the nurture also of the worst of our humanity.
I do not mean to suggest the all American Troops be judged by this standard or grouped along with those torturing prisoners. But no longer can we stick our heads in the sand of ‘its an isolated incident.’ These incidents still do not represent the vast majority of our children serving in the military. They do however show the danger of war, and the great spiritual danger of violence. Even in a just war (if such a thing should exist) where our young men and women enter conflict with the best of intentions, the highest ethical standards and the clearest moral reasoning, the violence and destruction along with fear that comprise the methodology of war have very real and tangible effects upon the soldiers; bitterness, anger, vengeance, cruelty and the dehumanization of ‘the enemy.’ Certainly these will not affect the majority of our servicemen and women so severely and adversely, but the risk is most certain and the cost real. The additional cost is that the effects of this cruelty on both victim and victimizer will last far longer than a tour of duty or even the lifetime of those directly involved.
The great witness of our the Christmas season is the advent of God’s ‘peace, goodwill toward men’ which was and is Jesus. Isaiah, the prophet, dreamed of the ‘Prince of Peace’ and Jesus himself claimed that his purpose was to bring ‘life in all its fullness.’ My fear is not only that this war will not bring fullness of life, but that its violence will only serve to drain the life from those caught up in its fog. Are we willing that even a few of our children should be placed in an environment in which their very darkest potentialities are given the chance to become reality and their best and brightest possibilities lost to them forever ? I am heartbroken at the thought, for some of the men and women put at this risk are the sons and daughters, the grandchildren of my congregation.